Monday, December 18, 2017

ETA Seven Days

With Christmas arriving in a week I thought you all might need some ideas for those last names still on your shopping list. So from the PBW archives here are:

Ten Things That Make Great Last-Minute Gifts

Composition Book Journal: Here's an article that shows you how to turn an inexpensive composition book into a customized journal.

Cookie Exchange: This requires some cooperation from your recipient. Agree to exchange as gifts a batch of your favorite cookies. Once you've made them, pack them in a pretty tin or container (the Dollar Store has great holiday tins), add a bow or tie with a ribbon. Be sure to share your recipe on a note card. This idea is also great as a theme for a Christmas party with friends; everyone brings a batch (my friend Jill holds her cookie exchange every year at Starbucks) and you draw names from a hat for the exchange.

Custom Cookbook: Create your own cookbook collection by scanning or typing up your favorite recipes for the holidays, dinners, desserts, or whatever theme you choose. Convert it to a .pdf and e-mail the file to your recipient, or print it out and place it in a folder or binder. Some grocery stores offer free recipe cards and magazines that make nice bonus material to add to your print collection.

Dollar Challenge: This is great to do with kids -- you agree to buy each other a gift that costs only $1.00, and go shopping together (and you'll need to shop either at a dollar or thrift store, but that's also fun.) One year my daughter found a little pocket manicure set for me that I still have in my purse.

First Aid for Kisses Kit: Glue a piece of white cardstock to the top of a small empty tin. Write "First Aid Kit for" at the top of the cardstock and draw a lips puckered for a kiss in red marker below it. Fill the tin with a stick of lip balm, disposable mini toothbrushes and breath mints.

For the Birds: If you have a friend or family member who loves birds, a small/inexpensive feeder and a five pound bag of birdseed are a great gift (you can find both at most home improvement or garden stores.)

Healthy Cooking Subscription: Cooking Light magazine, which focuses on articles and recipes for lighter, healthier eating, has a 2-for-1 holiday offer that allows you to give two subscriptions for $16.00.

Homemade Bread: One of our neighbors always gives us a loaf of her homemade bread as a holiday gift, and it's one of my favorite treats every year. Make your favorite bread, wrap in a pretty tea towel and place in an inexpensive bread basket. If they have kids, add some jars of peanut butter and jelly. Don't want to make a whole loaf of bread? Go for a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, or garlic knots.

Snack Bowl: Find a pretty serving bowl at Goodwill or the Dollar Store. Add some bags of microwave popcorn, fresh fruit, hot cocoa mix envelopes, small bags of chips or pretzels, cereal snack mix, etc., wrap with cellophane and crown with a bow. You can tailor this to your recipient, too; I do an exotic tea-and-cookies snack bowl for one of my friends every year (World Market is a great place to find unusual teas and snacks, too.)

Stuffed Stocking: For that impossible-to-buy-for person on your list, make or buy a stocking and fill it with something they love. The obvious choice is snacks, but you can also stuff it with small toiletries, crumpled dollar bills (college students love that one), two or three scarves, writer stuff, hand lotion and lip balms, kitchen tools or towels, the ingredients for a recipe, etc. This is also a fun gift to make with small toys or treats for the family pet.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Sew Me

When I wasn't writing in 2017 I was sewing -- a lot. I wanted to complete at least one project every month, learn to design more patchwork, and dabble a bit in art quilting. I also documented everything I was doing over at my Tumblr blog, which helped keep me on track.

Here's some of what I got accomplished:



I started the year with a small patchwork pillow project to use up some scraps.



I bought a vintage quilt top at the annual county quilt show and made it into a new quilt for Skye's kennel.



I practiced some new embroidery stitches and techniques on this crazy quilt tote.



I tried working with modern fabrics for the first time to make this black/white/gold lap quilt.



I designed and made my first bargello quilt.



I experimented with new types of hand quilting stitches to make this little tote.



My big project of the year was designing and making this quilt from fabrics and some patchwork sent to me by a dear friend.



I made my first official art quilt out of recycled linen remnants and eco-dyed fabrics.



Another lap quilt I made, inspired by a lovely linen from my friend's fabric.



This was the month my sewing machine started to die, so this cute tote I made from orphaned patchwork blocks I purchased on Etsy was done largely by hand.



A winter table runner I made for an art swap.



A pillow I made from an old cutter quilt piece.



A table topper I quilted and embroidered for Thanksgiving. On Black Friday I did venture out to buy a new sewing machine, too.

I still have one more quilt to work on this month, and a table runner I want to make for New Year's Eve, but I think I did okay with my non-writing projects in 2017. One very positive side of doing so much quilting was that I kept my creative energy high, which really helped my writing. Next year I'm probably going to do more art quilting, as that's the bug that bit me most often in 2017, but I'm also constantly finding new inspirations, so we'll see.

What creative projects did you finish this year? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Hepful Ten

Ten Holiday Helps from the PBW Archives

1. Easy Appetizer: One no-cook appetizer that appeals to everyone, even kids, is sometimes tough to manage; the most popular at any gathering we have are my fruit and cheese skewers. Make them by placing chunks of cheese and fruit on bamboo or plastic skewers (cheddar, grapes and pineapple chunks are a popular combo, as are strawberries, raspberries and swiss.) You can shape the cheese by using small cookie cutters to cut them from a block. A dessert spin on this is to replace the cheese with marshmallows or brownie bites. Here's a recipe with an accompanying dip.

2. Cookies Done Light: In past years I've linked many times to Cooking Light magazine's holiday recipes; here's their Christmas Cookie recipes for 2017.

3. PBW's Famous No-Brainer Fudge:

3 cups Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 can 14 oz. sweet condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
dash of salt
[optional add-ins: chopped nuts, mini marshmallows, raisins, M&Ms etc.]

Put morsels, milk, extract and salt in a sauce pan and melt over low heat. Stir frequently to blend. When it looks like fudge -- after about 5 to 10 minutes -- remove from heat, stir in your favorite chopped nuts, marshmallows, M&Ms or whatever. Pour into pan (I use an 8" pie pan), spread out, cover with foil or plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Chill for two hours, take out, cut into squares, enjoy.

Note on fancy toppings: Before you put in the fridge, you can also top the fudge with coconut, maraschino cherries, pecan halves etc.

4. Photo Op: Another great (and easy to make) last-minute gift is to print out your favorite photo of your recipient (or someone they love) and place it in a pretty frame.

5. Practical Party: Invite friends to bring over their unwrapped gifts and wrapping supplies, and have a gift-wrapping party (Moms, great to do while the kids are in school.) Make up goodie bags with scotch tape, adhesive gift tags and rolls of ribbon. Ask everyone to bring two jumbo rolls of gift paper; one to use and one to pass around. Serve coffee, tea, and a non-sticky treat like cookies or muffins.

6. Quilted Coaster Tags: Here are directions and photos to make my easy quilted coaster, which doubles as a gift tag.

7. Strawberry Santas: One of my neighbors made us a plate of cookies and these adorable Strawberry Santas, which are so easy to make I can whip up a plate of them in minutes (and if I don't have the ingredients to make the cheese filling, I substitute bottled whipped cream.)

8. Superquick ice cream sandwiches: Let your ice cream or frozen yogurt soften until it's spreadable, then spread between two graham crackers, two big chocolate chip cookies or two toasted mini-waffles. Roll the sides through mini chocolate chips or mini M&Ms. Put back in the freezer on a tray to harden.

9. A Timely Gift: If you can't afford a gift, offer your services instead. You can clean house or mow the lawn for an elderly person, babysit for busy parents, be a beta reader for a writer pal, take your friend's pup to the dog park, etc. For a really good friend, make up a stack of 12 coupons redeemable for various services over the next year.

10. Yum: My Favorite homemade Hot Chocolate recipe

Monday, December 11, 2017

Off to Hit the Books



I'm taking off today to do some research. See you on Wednesday.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Winter Writing



While we're not getting snowed in at Casa PBW, the temperature has dropped enough for me to haul out my fall/winter wear whenever I have to venture outside. It's also changed where and when I can write away from my home office. The porch is okay most days, but not at night. Ditto for the parks; I can manage a working lunch but early mornings or late afternoons are too cold. I'm also finding most of my quiet spots in town have become incessantly noisy with shoppers, holiday music and let-loose little kids. Don't get me wrong, these are all great things -- I love seeing people enjoying the season -- but that's also why it's distracting. I spend my time people-watching instead of storytelling. As I'm working through the holidays I need to devote at least eight hours a day to writing and editing.

My daughter is also coming home for her winter break from university. I'm looking forward to spending time with her, but since I'm her favorite distraction, I will probably also need to get up earlier, get out of the house a couple hours each day, and/or work while she's sleeping (probably a combination of all three.) Today I stopped by the library, which turned out to be completely empty, and spent an hour doing some research for work. I got everything done without a single interruption. Once everyone else's kids are out of school for their holiday break that may change, but until then I might start taking the laptop or the Neo over there to write.

One cool thing I noticed about the people in my new writing group is that they wear head phones or those ear bud things and listen to music while they are writing. I never thought of doing that -- I prefer silence, and I'm so deaf now most music is just white noise to me -- but some sound-cancelling ear phones could work for me in high-traffic or Christmas-saturated areas. I have to check into how much they cost, but it seems like they'd help at home, too, when my daughter is watching TV or has friends over to visit.

What do you do to write or get work done during the holidays? Share your tips in comments.

Image credit: Creative Commons Stock Photos

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

'Tis the Reading Season

This year I decided to be my own Secret Santa and buy some new books to read this month. I set myself a limit of three, and to get some variety I shopped for a favorite author, an author I haven't read in a while, and a new-to-me author.



Mary Balogh is of course the favorite author, and I've been waiting since February for her third Westcott novel, Someone to Wed. The fallout from a bigamous earl's death continues in this installment, which features his heir, Alexander Westcott. I've liked this character since the series began, and I have no doubt this will be a wonderful addition to the series.

I've read Dean Koontz's novels on and off for years; I've been off the author since Innocence depressed me a bit too much back in 2013. The Silent Corner is the first book in a new series featuring a female protagonist, and the cover copy got me curious. I liked the first page. No doubt it will all end up being a government conspiracy, but these days, what doesn't?

Caroline ~ Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller is the new-to me author's novel. The book was authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, and evidently tells some of Laura Ingalls Wilder's pioneering childhood stories from her mother's POV. I had some reservations right off the bat -- the Little House books are one of the reasons I became a writer, aka sacred ground -- so I did read the first four pages before I bought it. While it's not written in the voice or style of the Little House books, and the way Caroline Ingalls is portrayed doesn't match my mental image of her, I decided to quit nit-picking and give it a shot.

What are you reading this season? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Gift No-Nos

Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

Collectibles: I'm not much of a collector of anything but books and quilts, and my house is already stuffed to the rafters with both. You want to know what I'd honestly love to start collecting? Happy thoughts. Send me some of those. :)

Exotic Spice Blends: An artisan oregano and all-natural spearmint blend might sound tasty to you, but please. Refrain.

Glitter Anything: Older women seem to love anything that looks like a bad fourth-grade art project; strangely, I'm not one of them. Scientists now want to ban it, and I kind of agree because glitter always, always, always sheds.

Himalyan Salt Products: I'm seeing a lot of these made into cooking plates, shooters, tea light holders, etc. All that salt is bad for you, and the pink color? Not my personal favorite.

Knife Making Kit: Just say no to this one. For anybody.

Magic Bullet: I'm all about healthy drinks but I'm lazy. Also the name -- magic bullets are what we used to call suppositories.

Moscow Mule Mug I don't use alcohol, sorry. I'm also not inclined to like anything named after a Russian jackass.

Ugg Boots: I don't need boots where I live. For some reason this brand also reminds me of Chewbacca from Star Wars, who is not my personal style icon.

Upright Bacon Grill: A bacon toaster, yeah, that's a wonderful idea. Aside from the fact that cleaning it would be a nightmare, I'd have to double our house fire insurance coverage. Pass.

Virtual Reality System: Real life is challenging enough, thanks.

What don't you want for Christmas? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Working Holiday



First, congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo 2017. I hope most of you did better than me, but I'm proud of all of you for trying. Proud of me, too -- I gave it a shot, which was fun, and tried some new things, which seems to be my latest trend.

I'm writing through the holidays this month, but I've decided not to use that as an excuse to avoid all the merry and bright stuff. I'm not a big fan of the season, but my crew is, so I'm going to try to do a little something every day to get me in the spirit to celebrate with them. Yesterday I did a mini-makeover of my daughter's room with some pillows, a snowflake throw and some cute animal objects. Today I'm starting to put together a winter art quilt. Tomorrow I'll write my cards and order the flowers I send my mom every year. After that I'll visit the no-kill shelter to make my holiday donation, and think of other stuff I can do for others. Christmas is always a little more palatable when you're actively giving or doing something just for fun.

I've been invited to join a small writer's group that I met during NaNoWriMo, which is startling (but very cool.) I'm seriously considering it. It's low-key, I like everyone in the group, and it might be time for me to get out of the Batcave every now and then. I'm no longer out in the public eye with my work (quel soulagement!) so I don't have put on pantyhose and makeup and pretend like I'm Bestseller Chick. I can just be me -- and that would definitely be a novelty. But I'm still shy, socially awkward and not especially politic, so I do have to think about it.

For the blog I've decided to manually upload all the old photos for my posts to Blogger's hosting system so I can keep everything here versus replicating the PBW archive into e-books. I have to do this in my spare time, so I've got ten weeks done and about seven hundred more weeks to go. It's a nice project, though, and will allow me to reminisce a little.

So what's up with you all? Anyone have their own tactic to work through the holidays? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Extra Crispy

I hope everyone who celebrates it had a nice Thanksgiving, and I'm sorry I've been scarce. For me insomnia + day job + Thanksgiving + evil/dark + ocular migraine = only 15 hours sleep in 5 days. I can function on 4 hours, but 3 is definitely not enough. By day five I was completely fried. Last night I finally resorted to non-narcotic sleep aid pills (Alteril, which actually works for me) and got in about 7 hours of very hard, dreamless sleep. Usually that resets my brain to go back to my normal 5-6 hours of sleep per night, but we'll see.

For these reasons and a few others I had to stop working on my NaNoWriMo novel, and obviously I won't be crossing the finish line. It was fun to give it a go and get out to the real-life write-ins (I made four before I had to throw in the towel). I'm disappointed, but I'm also starting to realize that what I want to do and what I actually can do are becoming very different things.

By the way, thanks to everyone who checked on me. You guys are the best.

I always say it's good to fail. You learn more, it keeps your ego in check, and it gives you the chance to start over and do things differently. It never feels as lovely as success, but it's good for me. It's also a bit like oatmeal. I really don't like oatmeal unless it's a cookie, but as a breakfast it's good for my heart and my plumbing. It'll never be my favorite breakfast (hot buttermilk biscuits and butter and honey and a big glass of orange juice will forever hold that title), but if I add some sliced bananas or raisins it's palatable.

So how are you all doing with your November novels? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wishing You



Happy Thanksgiving from Paperback Writer.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Off to Finale



I'm taking off today to work on finishing up a deadline for my day job -- and I likely won't be back until Wednesday, 11/22. See you then.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Just an FYI

Tomorrow Photobucket should be cancelling my pro account and converting my pics to a free account, which means most or all of the photos on PBW may disappear. I have back ups of all the years with the photos, so they're safe.

I now just have to decide what I want to do with them. One option is to make my backups into e-books and post them on my Google Docs account, or (the insane option) put back 13 years of photos manually using Blogger's photo upload, which will take me a looooong time.

Also, my old Disenchanted & Company blog will be deleted tomorrow, as will my old photoblog, PBWindow. I've also backed them up and I'm making them into e-books, too, but as they're static I've decided to delete them. If you want to copy anything from either blog, you should do that today.

Monday, November 13, 2017

NaNoWriMonday: Roadblocks

The good news: my unexpected house guest is leaving tomorrow morning, and I've finally resolved all the issues caused by the malevolent Windows update. Also, my thanks to Microsoft for again illustrating so blindingly why so many of my friends choose Mac.

The bad news: I'm terribly behind on my quota for my November novel. I'm about to throw out the last chapters I've written because they're just wrong. Also, since the day job has to come first, and I'm taking off on Thanksgiving Day, I'm not sure I'll be able to cross the finish line.

Unexpected roadblocks are a huge part of the writing life. Work, family, friends and life get hungry and devour our writing hours, which drops us in the rickety seat on the emotional rollercoaster. This morning I'm tired, frustrated and not in the mood for any more nonsense. Balancing that is the fact that I had a lovely visit with my unexpected house guest; my work novel is coming together beautifully (yes, I'm writing two books this month) and I'll make my deadline next week. Also, I got the exact size turkey I wanted for Thanksgiving -- on sale, no less -- because I was paying attention instead of locking myself in the office to sulk over my roadblocks.

I don't mind failing. Success usually teaches you little to nothing except how to be a bigger ass than you already are. Besides, I can collide with as many roadblocks as life wants to throw at me and keep going. I've already done it countless times. It's when the tired part of me whines about giving up that I get really angry with myself. I may not be a winner, but a quitter? Nope. I keep going.

I'll post the latest update on Haunted House Style later today. In the meantime, how are you all doing with your NaNonovel? Let us know in comments.

Added: Haunted House Style, 11/14/17

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Still Off



The technical difficulties collided with an unexpected family visitor and my carefully organized day went all to Hades. Just now I recalled that I promised to post something today, too. Please consider this something, even if it is 1:42 am. My sincere apologies, but I will be off dealing with all this until Monday.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Off to Tinker

I'm bailing on you all today to try and fix what the malevolent Windows update wrecked. And try not to slam my head on my desk too many times. And try not to insult the unhelpful help people.

You know, I don't mind the fixit blues when I screw up things, but when others mess with my hardware? Without permission? And then tell me it's my fault when I didn't do anything?

I'm trying to work here, Microsoft.

Anyway. I'll figure it out. I always do.

See you on Friday.

Monday, November 06, 2017

NaNoWriMonday: Week One

The first week of National Novel Writing Month went pretty well for me. I hit my counts almost every day, and doubled up on last Saturday's in order to participate in the official double-up day. I like what I'm getting on the page; Emma is as strong a protagonist as ever. I plan to go to another real-life write-in or two this week.

What I'm struggling with is being so far outside my comfort zone. Writing-wise, I prefer to be alone in my bat cave getting the work done. I'm fighting that desire every day, tooth and nail, as I try to join in with the local writing community, at least for the next month. It's not that I dislike socializing as much as a sense of being on display. People are suddenly paying attention to me when I'm usually invisible. Actually if I were invisible I'd be a lot more social. Anyway, I'm not going to cave into it, but it is a real challenge.

Also, the reason I'm so late posting today: evidently thanks to a malevolent Windows automatic update, I now can't get anything uploaded to my Google Docs account. Once I have time to spend the obligatory eight hours chatting with the help people while they have me do things that don't resolve the problem, I'll try a restore. But in the meantime, updates on Haunted House Style will have to remain in the holding queue until we figure this out.

How is NaNoWriMo going for you? Let us know in comments.

Friday, November 03, 2017

NaNoWriMo Kick-Off

I attended my very first National Novel Writing Month meeting on Wednesday, and met with about a dozen writers who are participating this year. Everyone welcomed me and made me feel right at home while I was there. The ML passed out an interesting packet, some stickers and held three word sprints that were fun. I acquired a new NaNo buddy and a writing dare, and knocked out about a thousand words, so it was a productive exercise, too. I'll be attending more meetings this month when time/life permits.

I'm doing all right on Emma's second book, too; I passed 5K this morning. I'll have to fill in some backstory for new readers, but right now I'm focusing on forging ahead and nailing my daily counts. I love writing in Emma's voice so it hardly feels like work. For those who want to follow my progress, I'll be posting links at the bottom of my NaNo posts, like this:

Haunted House Style 11/3/17

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

NaNoWriMo Begins

Welcome to the first day of National Novel Writing Month. For the next thirty days, writers all over the world will be racing to pen a 50,000 word novel, and I'll be one of them. I'll upload what I write and edit each day on my Google Docs account and post links here so you can follow my progress with Haunted House Style, my sequel to Ghost Writer.

Throughout November I'll be reporting on how I juggle this with my day job, thoughts on how to improve productivity, whine about problems (just a little) and otherwise detail how the experience goes for me. I also plan to paticipate in at least one of the official NaNoWriMo real-world events -- my very first time doing that -- and I'll let you know how that/those go.

If you have an account set up on the official NaNoWriMo site, and would like to be my writing buddy, my user name is Lynn Viehl, and my novel information page is here. I promise to nag you at least once or twice during November, and I'd love to hear how your novel is coming along, too.

I'm really excited about this opportunity to continue Emma's story. If you're also diving in, welcome -- tell us what you'll be writing in comments.

Added: Haunted House Style 11/1/17

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wishing You

Monday, October 30, 2017

NaNoWriMonday: Ask PBW

It's been forever since I used this graphic in a post. Makes me feel nostalgic for the blogging days of yore.

I had family visiting last week, so I didn't have a lot of time to do anything but work and cook (which is also why I like to prep early.) Today I'm going to finish gathering what I need for my NaNoNovel notebook, and tinker on my chapter summaries a bit, but otherwise I'm good to go for Wednesday.

Since we're 48 hours away from the start of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I'd make myself available for any questions you might have today about NaNo-related stuff. If you do, post them in comments before midnight EST, and I'll do my best to offer advice or find you an answer elsewhere.

Graphic credit: © Yellowj | Dreamstime.com

Friday, October 27, 2017

Circa 1853

To feed my love of all things Victorian American I purchased a couple of partial Godey's Lady's Books from Threads and Memories on Etsy; both date back to the mid-nineteenth century. The illustrations (three in color) are marvelous, as are the fashion plates, embroidery patterns and stories. Ladies who read these issues got the latest style trends, from even as far away as Paris, gardening ideas, every day advice and even sheet music and floor plans for a cottage.

All of the content is very polite and proper, of course, which I think makes it even more charming. Have a look:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Timing

This morning I'm going to see how long it takes me to write this blog post plus the scenes I've planned for my morning writing session, by using the Pomodoro timer on Marinanratimer.com. The timer gives me writing sessions of 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks, and (if I remember correctly) a 15-minute break after I finish four sessions. I can also pause it if I need to do something that won't wait until my break, like answer the phone or the call of Nature.

Why time myself? It's been a while since I have, and I need to know (on average) how much writing I can do in a day, a week and a month to better plan my work schedule. For example: I wrote a total of 6,159 words of fiction and a 563-word blog post on Monday, and that's a pretty typical writing day for me. But I didn't keep track of my time writing, so I can't tell you exactly how long it took me to write it. Maybe ten hours, maybe twelve -- I'm really not sure. I had some productive sprints, during which I can write up to 1,500 words an hour, but also had more than one draggy sessions where I likely only knocked out 500 words. There was also an hour where I edited everything I'd written.

Right now I'm at the halfway point of my 25 minute session, and I've written 238 words. That's close to twenty words a minute, which puts me at 1,200 words per hour -- a little faster than I usually write, but blog posts are easy -- I just write off the top of my head and add coding for applicable links. Could I write faster? Sure. But it's not really about speed, it's about consistency. I like to get into a productive rhythm with the writing where I feel comfortable + I'm getting work done at an acceptable pace. Once I know how long that takes me, I can forecast the work I'll probably get done and alter my schedule accordingly.

In November I'll be working on two novels, one for NaNoWriMo and one for work. I already know I need to write a minimum of 5K per day. I'll probably do more so I can take off on Thanksgiving. But having timed myself, I'll also know how long I have to block off every day for writing. It's not perfect -- I'll write slower when I feel like crap, and faster when I get into the zone, but those highs and lows tend to balance out for me.

One neat thing about this timer site is that the tab for it shows you the time if you're working in multiple windows. Right now I have three minutes left before my break. I also just deleted a long sentence that made no sense, so I'm not padding my results -- just the opposite. This exercise is not about how much you can do in 25 minutes, but what you'd actually write on any day -- and on any day I do delete about 5% of what I write while I'm writing it.

Thirty seconds: I'm feeling a little more awake now, and a little more focused. Timers do that for me, too. And now I've reached my five minute break (announced by a handy little chime.)

Total: 562 words in twenty-five minutes.

I think I'll use my break to make a cup of tea and get the laundry started. Also, just to note, there are two other timers on the site you can use; one is customizable, and the other is just like a kitchen timer -- set it and forget it.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Taking the Day



I'm taking the day off to spend some quality time refilling the creative well. See you on Wednesday.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

NaNoWriMobility

[I moved Monday's National Novel Writing Month post to today because tomorrow I'm going to unplug and do something else.]

I broke a keyboard last week, something I do once or twice a year. I'm heavy-handed and clumsy due to my arthritis, which is why I buy cheap keyboards; the expensive ones break just as easily. Unfortunately this time I killed my Neo2 smart keyboard, which is no longer being manufactured. Since I can store two hundred manuscript pages on the Neo2, run it for weeks on 3 AA batteries, take it anywhere and even drop it occasionally without a problem I decided to get one off eBay.

The replacement I bought was the last new one listed; which means when I burn up this one I need to find another cheap brand of smart keyboard (there are none), go the tablet-with-paper-thin-attachable-keyboard route (which I will probably break in a month), or start using my much more expensive laptop when I want to take my writing on the go (with which I must use a wireless keyboard because otherwise I'd break the keypad portion of the very expensive laptop.)

Being immobilized irks me because I like to take breaks from the desktop and go out on the porch with my Neo2 for an hour or two. I also use the smart keyboard when I'm getting too distracted by the internet, or my eyes hurt from the monitor glare, or I need to go to the library. During the extensive power failure period after Hurricane Irma I used the smart keyboard exclusively to write and save my laptop charge. Anyway, the new Neo2 is on its way, but in the meantime I'm stuck at my desk.

I want to be mobile next month while I'm working on my NaNo novel for a bunch of other reasons. My story is set in a nearby town, which I plan to visit and write on-scene to get a personal look at some of the setting. I plan to attend at least one official NaNoWriMo write-in, meet some of the local participants and write with them. I may also take a weekend trip, and I always like to do a little writing at the hotel at night or early in the morning. Being mobile also allows me to deal with lack of enthusiasm, so if I start to drag during November I can pack up my keyboard and go someplace that inspires me.

You don't have to be on the move during NaNoWriMo, but having the option to take your writing with you may help you get more done. Also, you don't have to take actual gadgets. I always carry a small notepad with me everywhere in case I see or hear something I want to jot down and remember. Writing in longhand in a notebook or on a legal pad will require you to transcribe it later, but it's a great way to shift gears with writing. You can even take a voice recorder with you on the go and dictate your writing to it. If you've never tried writing elsewhere, this is a great time to give it a test-drive -- you may find it changes your process for the better.

Are you a mobile writer? Any ideas on how to get other writers on the go with their work? Let us know in comments.

Friday, October 20, 2017

PSA Time

It's definitely time for a PBW Public Service Announcement.

There is someone publishing author bibliographies on Amazon.com, and yes, they're selling mine for $2.99. I had no idea it was that valuable. Why didn't you guys tell me to publish my bibliography? I could have made tens of dollars!

Okay. If you would like to view my correct bibliography, in reading order, please do not buy it from Amazon.com. I keep it on the blog. As it happens, I've had it on the blog for many, many years. Simply click here to access it.

Oh, and you can send me $2.99 if you want, but unlike this Amazon.com seller I'd rather you not pay me for something that has always been provided for free by the freaking author herself.

That concludes the PSA. Thank you for your attention, and have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Cover Art



My latest cover art from my French publisher J'ai Lu, for their translation of In the Leaves. This is also the first book I sold to a traditional publisher without an agent, so it's a bit of personal history, too.

Monday, October 16, 2017

NaNoWriMondays: Habits

For National Novel Writing Month we always talk about the big issues: productivity, motivation, time management etc. Of course they're important, so they get a lot of attention. But almost every writer develops habits that can often become roadblocks on the way to the finish line. Since we have a particularly difficult road to travel in November, here are:

Ten Writing Habits That Can Wreck Your NaNo Novel
(And what you can do to stop or curb them)

Backtracking: Aka writing a scene or chapter, re-reading it, editing it, re-reading it, editing it, re-reading it, editing it, etc.

Solution: Read and edit what you write for NaNo only one time. If you can't resist the habit, only indulge it for that day. The next day, no matter how much you want to backtrack again, write something new.

Critiquing: Getting feedback from other writers on the work while it's in progress.

Solution: I don't do this, but I know it can be an important part of the process for other writers. Bottom line: You don't have time for critiques. Hold off on all of them until December 1st.

Doubting: Various ways of beating yourself up because you're not worthy, talented, a pro, as good as [insert name of favorite author], you suck, you never finish anything, your ninth grade English teach spit on everything you wrote, or any other reason that shuts down your muse/mojo.

Solution: First, agree with yourself. You're not worthy, or talented, or a pro, or as good as whoever, etc. I often think I suck at this, so you're in good company. Second, write it anyway. Write it for fun. Write it like you're just practicing your typing. Write it for no damn good reason at all.

Excessive Researching: You look for three accurate resources to confirm every fact in your story, and you won't go on until you find them all and add them to your bibliography.

Solution: Do your research and fact-checking in December.

Nesting: In hopes of creating a warm and cozy writing space you constantly do things like make idea boards, collect chachkas, surround yourself with scented candles, hang writing good luck charms over/around/on your computer, and pin motivational messages to yourself on the wall.

Solution: I'm not a nester, but I do respect your right to bury yourself in inspiring junk. The two problems with nesting are 1) being unable to stop long enough to write anything and 2) being distracted from the work by all the inspiring junk you've piled in your writing space. To solve either or both, for the month of November write somewhere else where you are not permitted to nest, like the quiet room at the library.

Over-Editing: There are various forms of this (like backtracking), but they all boil down to spending way more time editing than writing.

Solution: During NaNoWriMo do only a single pass edit of what you write. Save the rest for December.

Perfection Questing: Acts involved with the need to be sure your plot, characters, word choices and anything else involved in the writing is perfect, and the inability to write anything new until they are.

Solution: Like doubting, this habit can be paralyzing. I once sat next to a famous writer dude at a luncheon who admitted to me he spent ten years writing a single book because he had to be sure every word of it was perfect. You don't have ten years, you have thirty days, so write the story first and make it perfect later.

Procrastinating: Finding reasons not to write that include but are not limited to your lousy day job, mental exhaustion, your family problems, the fascinating new season of DWTS and so on.

Solution: This is a tough one, but remember that life is short. So is NaNoWriMo. I suggest that for the month of November you commit to writing an hour every day -- no matter how much your life sucks, or how little you get on the page. You may not cross the finish line, but having actual writing as part of your daily routine for a month may help combat the procrastination blues.

Waffling: You have difficulty or you're unable to make story decisions, which stalls your progress.

Solutions: I've got two for this: if you can't decide between two or more options, flip a coin until you narrow it down to one and use that. If you can't think of any options, place an editing marker like this in the story [name of John's high school] and move on.

Zoning: You can only write in the zone, aka those times when the words come in a huge, thrilling, endless rush that keeps you working tirelessly for hours.

Solution: I would love to write in the zone all the time. Personally I only get there once or twice a week -- if I'm lucky. The rest of the time I just show up for work and do my job. Showing up and doing the job for thirty days is a good way to get out of the zoning-only habit, too, so try it.

Do you have any writing habits that you want to kick? Have any advice for kicking them? Let us know in comments.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Story Jinxes

Since it's Friday the Thirteenth I thought I'd admit to:

Ten of My Writing-related Superstitions

Avoidances: There are some things I avoid writing in a story (and on the blog) because they spook me or I consider them jinxes, like that lettered board people use to talk to the dead. See how I avoided writing the name of it? Ha.

Beginning Rituals: I always meditate for an hour before I start a new story. Mostly I try to empty my brain and make it into a clean slate, but I also give thanks to the universe for any creative energy it's willing to send my way. If I can't do this, I'll put off starting the new story until I can.

Coin-Flip Titles: When I can't decide between two titles I really like for a story, I flip a coin and let the Fates pick it. This is why Evermore is not titled Everlasting.

Color Cursed: Yellow has been my bad luck color for most of my adult life, although I'm trying to get over it now via therapeutic quilting. Until I do, any time you see anything yellow in my work? Definitely not a good sign.

Crazy 8s: The number 8 relates to many weird things in my personal history, and it spooks me, so I try to use it sparingly -- usually only for weird things in a story.

Do No Harm: If I do base a character on a person in the real world, I try not to kill them off in the story, as I think that's tempting Fate in a very bad way. Anything else goes, however.

Easter Eggs: I regularly embed little treasures in my stories (and I'm not going to tell you what or where they are) mainly for fun, and to see if readers are paying attention. Like anagrams (also something I regularly hide in stories) I think they're good luck.

Fabulous 14s: Fourteen is my lucky number, and I do put it somewhere in every story I write as a personal talisman. If I can't fit in the actual number somewhere, I'll use the letters of the word fourteen as a secret acronym or acrostic sentence.

Names Not Used: I try never to name characters after people I dislike, random nouns, or members of my family. I think the first is bad luck, the second is silly, and the third is creepy.

Never me: It gives me the willies when writers Tuckerize themselves to become characters. One of the reasons I stopped reading Stephen King is because he did. Thus you will never see PBW as a character in any of my stories. I will occasionally refer to myself as part of a joke, but always unnamed.

Do you have any writing superstitions? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rats

Just got notified that one of my favorite online shops for writers is closing:

"It is with mixed feelings that we announce we will be closing the Writer’s Bloc online store in November 2017. We are holding a going out of business sale offering deeper discounts on all of our popular items in an effort to clear out our inventory. We want to send out a special thank you to our loyal customers and deeply appreciate all of your support over the years. You’ve introduced us to some fabulous brands that we love and write with on a daily basis such as Clairefontaine, Rodia, LAMY, Noodlers, Pelikan, Pilot, Aston Leather, and so many others. You will certainly be missed!

Thank you for sharing the last 10 years with all of us here at Writer’s Bloc."

Monday, October 09, 2017

NaNoWriMonday: Less than 10%

National Novel Writing Month gets plenty of online attention and participation. We writers talk about it a lot before, during and after November. Since it began NaNoWriMo has evolved into a writing community of its own. Just take a look at the stats from last year: 384,126 participants jumped in and gave it their best shot. Of these (according to their 2017 press release) over 34,000 crossed the finish line with a 50K book that they wrote in 30 days.

A lot of writers join in, but less than ten percent finish (and I'm not on my high horse here; I failed to win one year because one of my pets died and I was horribly depressed.) While it's fun to talk about writing a novel in a month, and even to start one when November 1st rolls around, it's a lot harder to actually produce fifty thousand words in thirty days.

I think there are three big obstacles that almost everyone has to deal with during NaNoWriMo:

No time -- you have only 30 days to do it. No extensions. No time off. No sick days.
Holidays -- In the U.S., Thanksgiving. And if you're a shopper, Black Friday.
Work-- Some writers insist on working at a day job so they can pay their bills. Disclaimer: I'm one of them.

Then there are the more nebulous reasons, such as when the idea fizzles out, or the self-doubt kicks in, or you find yourself wanting to kill off all the characters in the story. Basically the writing stops being fun and becomes work. You find yourself slogging through the pages, and making up excuses not to work on it, and suddenly it's November 29th and you have 40K left to write in order to win. One month goes very fast.

I can't guarantee you'll cross the finish line in November; no one can. But here are some tips that may help you be part of the less than ten percent who probably will:

1. Advance Chapter: Test out your story idea by writing a chapter now, or sometime before NaNoWriMo begins. You don't have to count it as part of your 50K, and it will give you a preview of how the writing will go.

2. Brain Work It: Imagine your story from start to finish in an abbreviated form, like a movie trailer playing it your head, until you can clearly envision the major or dramatic highlights (and this won't work for organic/pantser writers).

3. Make a Mix: This isn't something I can do anymore (hearing loss sucks), but plenty of writers make up soundtracks for their work that they listen to before or during their work sessions. Having the soundtrack seems to help some writers better envision the story.

4. Whiteboard it: Outline your story on a whiteboard. Killzoneblog.com has a neat article on this here with example boards from J.K. Rowling and Norman Mailer.

Look around you and see what changes you can make with your writing time and space. In order to produce 1,667 words per day, you'll probably need to write for at least a couple of hours. I recommend splitting the writing into two sessions. It may also help to work when things are calm and quiet, like early in the morning before everyone gets up, and/or later at night when they're all in bed. Or leave the house and go somewhere quiet, like the library.

For those of you who prefer noise, take a laptop to Starbucks or a mall food court or a busy park. You also don't have to write every day, but if you're planning to take time off during NaNoWriMo, write a little extra on the days you do work to compensate.

Another big time sink that can kill your writing: television/movie watching. Stop it completely for the month of November, and devote that time instead to your novel.

Also, don't try to go it alone. Ask your friends and family to help you during NaNoWriMo however they can to free you up for writing.

Does anyone have any tricks they use to be more productive with their writing time? Let us know in comments.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Oh Cool

Now this is really neat: Hubspot's blog idea generator uses three nouns you input to generate a week's worth of blog post titles. I fed it the words writing/novel/plot and got these:

1. 5 Tools Everyone In The Novel Industry Should Be Using
2. 10 Quick Tips About Writing
3. Why We Love Plot (And You Should, Too!)
4. How To Solve The Biggest Problems With Novel
5. 7 Things About Writing Your Boss Wants To Know


Some of these won't work, but I like the quick tips idea, and the why we love plot. I might use those in future PBW posts.

For the words reader/book/sales I got:

1. 10 Signs You Should Invest In Book
2. What Will Reader Be Like In 100 Years?
3. 14 Common Misconceptions About Sales
4. The History Of Book
5. Think You're Cut Out For Doing Reader? Take This Quiz


Okay, I'm not cut out to be doing readers, but what will readers be like in 100 years? That would be fun to imagine.

Finally I tried love/story/hero, and my results were:

1. 20 Myths About Love
2. 10 Quick Tips About Story
3. The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Hero
4. The Ultimate Cheat Sheet On Love
5. 14 Common Misconceptions About Story


You can see that the generator starts repeating itself, but there are still some decent ideas here. I'd like to research 20 myths about love, and if you're writing a hero, there are mountains of bad advice out there to avoid. I also like the ultimate cheat sheet on love -- what would a writer's version look like?

If you're looking for fresh ideas for your blog, give this a whirl -- you might find inspiration along with a few chuckles.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fun Story Outlines

Today we're going to talk about outlining stories. All strictly artistic, spontaneous, organic and/or pantser writers should now leave the blog, lest I poison your well, ruin your process or otherwise mess with your mojo.

It's not that bad. Outlining can be a blast, if you stop with the dread and go for the fun of it. I did that last month with my outline for my NaNoWriMo 2017 novel. I had the general idea of what I wanted to write, so basically I just channeled the protagonist and let her tell me the bare bones of the story in her voice. Since I think Emma is hilarious, it was something I really enjoyed -- and that is the key.

If you don't like writing traditional outlines, why try writing them at all? Instead, why not write what happens in your story like a bullet list:

Soviet missile sub commander defects -- with invisible sub.
CIA drops analyst on US sub.
Subs meet; get cranky.
Analyst and defector become periscope pals.
Second Soviet sub arrives.
Torpedoes fly.
The cook is a saboteur!
Sam Neill character dies.
Soviets think defecting sub sank.
They defect happily ever after.


Okay, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that is a bullet list-style outline of The Hunt for Red October. I covered all the major plot points in ten lines (and just fifty words) off the top of my head. Took me five minutes because it was fun.

For those of you who are muttering that you're not into list outlining, okay. Why not invent your own method? I did that back in 2015 with story cards, and in 2012 with SCARAB outlining, and in 2008 with my speedy ten point plot outline. So now it's your turn. What can you think up that would make the task easier, faster, or more interesting?

Don't limit yourself to what you can do on the computer, either. You can use index cards, sticky notes, a small notepad, a story journal, a composition book, a cork board collage -- anything that helps you organize your thoughts can also work for outlining a story.

Finally, back in 2015 I reposted my master list of novel outlining links, and most of the links still work, so if you don't want to follow my method, try someone else's. See what feels like fun for you, and you might never again dread outlining.

Monday, October 02, 2017

NaNoWriMondays

From now until November 30th I'm going to devote Mondays on the blog to National Novel Writing Month, in which I plan to participate, and will absolutely nag everyone else who wants to listen. If you do a search of PBW with the NaNoWriMo tag you will also find all the posts I've written in the past with pep talks, helpful links and free or very cheap online resources etc.

We've got almost a month before the madness begins, and I'm sure some of you are still on the fence as to whether or not to join in. Lots of writers wait until the last minute before they sign up, which is fine. Sometimes it's tough to decide. The thought of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days can be intimidating, especially when you have a day job. I'll be writing two books simultaneously for the first couple weeks in November -- one for work + my NaNo novel -- so believe me, I understand.

NaNoWriMo is work. Hard work. Challenging, frustrating, often maddening work -- but it isn't all work. It's allowing your muse to do whatever it wants. For a novelist, it's a month-long chunk of creative freedom. Your novel isn't going to write itself, and it's possible you could end up with a story that lives in a drawer or trunk or on a hard drive forever. Also, at the finish line you don't actually get anything but your story. Well, and bragging rights. And that cool winner badge to post on your blog or web site, and possibly some special free offer thing from NaNoWriMo commercial sponsors. And the satisfaction of knowing that you wrote a book in thirty days.

This November I'll be writing Haunted House Style for all of you. I'll post online every word I write daily so you can see how I handle a first draft. Once I've finished and edited the book, it will be permanently posted on the free reads page. I can't wait, either. This is the most fun I can have while staying dressed. Also, I love that winner badge.

Are you ready to commit? If you have, how are you prepping for NaNoWriMo? Tell us in comments.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Paint Chip Books

All the visits we've been making to the home improvement and big box stores for post-Irma stuff has allowed me to collect some paint chips to use for story palettes. Okay, I admit, I just like looking at the paint chips. There's something mesmerizing about all those colors and pamphlets and decorator photos that makes me want to redo every room in the house (even my office, which is already painted with my favorite shade of sea glass.) I also pay close attention to the color names, as they often use unusual nouns and adjectives for them -- something I can always use when writing Yet Another Blue-eyed Character.

Sure, I know what you're thinking: how hard can it be to describe blue eyes? On average I have at least two blue-eyed characters in every novel I write. Since I like blue eyes, often more than two. Times 67 novels. Try describing blue eyes differently at least one hundred and thirty-four times, then come sneer at my paint chips.

On my last visit to Lowe's I noticed that Olympic and Valspar had put out some chip cards I hadn't before seen. Olympic now pairs some photos with the paint chips on their cards (top middle of the pic here), while Valspar has trio sets of colors with little windows in them (top right.) Wal-Mart also had large sheet-style paint chips that were self-adhesive to stick on the wall and preview what the paint would look like (bottom middle.)

I collected samples of everything I liked (and I am planning to redo the guest bathroom, so I chose colors I'd like to try in that room) and brought them home to have some fun. Since I made some notepads out of paint chips earlier this month I thought I might see what I could make out of this batch. Olympic's photo paint chip cards have lots of lovely, serene images on them so I started with them.



These would be great for easy-to-make bookmarks if you cut off the paint chips and glued the strip of images to scrapbook or heavier-weight craft paper, but I was a bit more ambitious. First I trimmed the cards to separate the images from the paint chips, and then glue-sticked the image strips in four rows on a sheet of old card stock from the paper recycling bin.

Stacking them together in harmonious colors created a collage effect that I liked a lot:



For the first collage page I unearthed an ancient pack of computer stationery and a torn book board from my recycle bin and trimmed them down, punched holes in them and fastened them together with two binder rings. Now I have a bigger notebook for my desk, which I actually needed, with paper that is nice enough to use for correspondence. With the support of the book board backing I can also use it while I'm walking around the house and muttering to myself as I work out a scene.

For the second collage page I cut in half some 140lb. coldpress watercolor paper left over from the kids' school days, and used the same hole punch/binder ring approach to making myself a nice-sized watercolor journal.



For the windowed paint chip cards I settled on making some smash books to store swatches of fabric from my quilt projects. I took the paint squares I trimmed from the Photo cards and glued them over the windows from the back, then cut some old 12 X 12 scrapbook paper into six 4" X 5-1/2" pages. After holepunching everything I used a knotted piece of scrap ribbon as the binding:


While all the materials I used to make these are all recycled the end result turned out like something you'd purchase from that fussy journal section in big book stores. These two pain chip books were also easy and simple enough for kids to make, although I'd recommend adult supervision if they use a paper trimmer, scissors or any other sharp-edged objects.

If you're interested in doing something else with your paint chips, BrokeandHealthy.com has 50 projects here. I like ChicaandJo.com's paint chip mosaic greeting cards -- you could easily do these in holiday colors.

Have you done anything interesting with paint chips? Let us know in comments.